For aspiring stage or film actors, the art of memorizing lines can be a rewarding challenge, especially when stepping into a leading role. Even with the constraints of limited time to master your part, fear not! Embrace the journey, as there are 10 invaluable tricks that can effortlessly enhance your ability to memorize lines, whether you're preparing for a captivating play or an exciting film project. You've got this!
In This Article:
- 1. Read the Script in Its Entirety
- 2. Run Lines With Another Actor
- 3. How To Memorize Lines Fast by Writing Them Out
- 4. Memorizing Lines by Breaking It Down
- 5. Do a Speed Through
- 6. Take Breaks
- 7. Study Your Lines Before Sleeping
- 8. How To Memorize a Script Fast by Exploring the Material
- 9. Focus on Your Cues
- 10. Use Visual Imagery
- How To Memorize Lines for a Play vs. a Film
1. Read the Script in Its Entirety
Whenever you receive a new script, first read the whole thing without stopping to focus on your lines in particular. Try to get a sense of who your character is, who the other characters are and what their relationships with each other are like.
After reading the script in its entirety once, go back to the beginning and read it out loud. Be sure to read everyone’s lines out loud, not just your own. During this run-through, don’t worry about putting emotion into your speech or creating relevant facial expressions or movements. Instead, focus on understanding the overall picture of the play or film.
2. Run Lines With Another Actor
Running lines with someone is one of the most popular methods for memorizing lines. It’s important to make sure you go over lines with a fellow actor — not a friend or parent. This keeps you accountable and allows you to gain insight into how you are acting.
Rehearsal® Pro is a great app to use if you can’t find someone to run lines with. You are able to highlight lines, record other characters’ lines and use it as a teleprompter. While it can’t replace another fellow actor, it is a helpful tool when you’re in need of practice.
3. How To Memorize Lines Fast by Writing Them Out
Writing out your lines by hand can help your mind absorb them. Take a pencil and paper and write them all out. This is especially good to do when you have long scenes or a speech.
Focus on writing only your lines without becoming distracted by the lines of other actors. Repeat it a few times. Then, type out all your lines on a laptop several times. Repetition is key.
4. Memorizing Lines by Breaking It Down
Don’t attempt to memorize the entire script all at once. Break it up into smaller pieces and repeat until those lines are written into your brain. Going section-by-section makes memorizing a bit less overwhelming and more doable.
5. Do a Speed Through
In the industry, there is a particular technique for memorizing lines called a “Speed Through.” Get together with your fellow actors to run through all your lines as quickly as possible. Set aside the script (but keep it nearby) and try not to refer to it very often.
Each character takes their turn vocalizing their lines, reciting them as quickly as possible without acting or expressing any emotions. The process of speaking lines as quickly as possible helps to expose any problematic areas. If you’re having trouble memorizing any particular words, it’ll manifest as a pause in the exercise.
Indicate on the script which lines you couldn’t verbalize quickly. Later, you can go back and work on those areas.
6. Take Breaks
While memorizing lines is important, it is equally important to rest in between. After a while of reading lines and going over them, your brain will get tired and need to be recharged. Go for a run, take a quick nap, eat or even do a relaxing activity — whatever puts you at ease and gives your brain a break.
7. Study Your Lines Before Sleeping
Schedule an hour before you go to sleep to review your lines. However, don’t tire your brain out. Read for your allotted time, and then go to bed and sleep for an appropriate amount of time.
Science shows that not only does getting enough sleep promote learning and memory, but studying shortly before sleeping can also enhance memory retention.1
Just remember: Staying up late and trying to pound lines in your head won’t do you any favors. You want to be well-rested to promote strong memory formation.
8. How To Memorize a Script Fast by Exploring the Material
Ryan R. Williams, an on-camera coach and the founder of Screen Actors System, says that an actor should explore the material. He trains his actors to not simply memorize, but to think of the words as part of their story.2
Williams suggests actors conduct a full-text analysis of the scene. Identify the beats, choose your focus and consider the emotional aspects. Look into your character’s backstory and learn more about what makes them tick and what they love. Williams also says, “By the time you know the scene as a dramatist, you will have learned the lines organically.”2
9. Focus on Your Cues
Remember that you don’t only need to know what to say but also when to say it. Part of memorizing lines is memorizing your cues. In some cases, your cue is the last line spoken by a character sharing the scene with you. Sometimes, your lines may call for intentionally interrupting your co-actor mid-speech. Here is an example:
Character 1: “You know I’d never intentionally break your favorite coffee mug. Can’t you see that—”
Character 2: “How can you say it wasn’t intentional when I saw you throw it on the floor?”
In this case, character 2’s cue is the line, “Can’t you see that—” This line prompts you to speak your own line.
Sometimes, a cue can be a change in the physical scenery, such as a change in lighting, a sound effect or the exit/entry of another character.
Regardless of the type of cue expressed in the script, when working on how to memorize a script fast, it’s crucial not to overlook your cues.
10. Use Visual Imagery
If you need to memorize large sections of lines at a time, it may be helpful to associate different sections of lines with certain images. Choose a relevant mental image for each line or chunk of lines. As you speak the lines out loud, think about their associated images.
For example, if your character is talking about where they were born, your mental image might be a log cabin with a puff of smoke emanating from the chimney. If your character is talking about not being able to trust another character, picture an image of a broken heart.
How To Memorize Lines for a Play vs. a Film
There are many differences between acting on a stage and acting on a movie set. However, neither is necessarily more difficult than the other. Each has its own challenges and perks.
Film actors may not have the luxury of waiting until the night before shooting a scene to memorize lines for it. If they have a large part, they might need to memorize lengthy monologues, and waiting until the last minute to work on them isn’t advisable. Plus, if they mess up even just one line, the entire scene needs to be shot all over again — a costly endeavor in some cases (e.g., action sequences).
Regarding the issue of how to memorize lines for a play specifically, it may be helpful to remember that stage actors, unlike film actors, need to project their voices so that the entire audience can hear them clearly. Because of this, one helpful tip for memorizing lines is to speak them out loud using the same volume and tone of voice that you would use on the stage. This may help jog your memory later when you’re on stage.
Grand Canyon University encourages students to embrace their creativity within the GCU Theatre Department. The College of Arts and Media offers several degree options that are designed to prepare you to pursue a career in arts and entertainment. Complete the form on this page to learn more about joining our learning community in Phoenix.
1 National Institutes of Health. (2013, April). Sleep on it: how snoozing strengthens memories. Retrieved Dec. 11, 2023.
2 Strassberg, R. (2021, June 8). 17 ways to quickly memorize lines. Backstage. Retrieved Dec. 11, 2023.
Approved by the assistant dean of the College of Arts and Media on Jan. 19, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.